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Sourcing's sour side

It looks like it's time to take a closer look at offshore home furnishings manufacturing.

What has to be understood, more than anything else, is that machines don't care what country they are operating in. As long as there are the right people to make them work, and if the basics, such as water supplies, can keep them going, good things can happen. If they don't, well, it's just time for the humans to move the machines to someplace else where they can work better.

And as Rob Culp so sagely suggested a few years back as decorative fabric production at home was slipping and contract fabric was surging, the machines don't care whether they're making an elegant bedding or window fabric or cubicle curtains for hospitals.

Basically it's the humans behind the machines that have the ego problems about where and what these iron monsters are spitting out.

And world events each day serve to keep everyone involved in offshore sourcing, especially in the Far East, on their toes.

In fabrics, we're hearing about more problems with stuff that gets shipped but is not up to snuff on the original specs. This involves everything from yarn constructions to acceptable and accurate thread counts to color veracity to the timing that is involved in getting reorders — if reorders are available at all.

It may all be part of the general buzz about the offshore thing, but when you hear that one of the largest retailers doesn't care that the blues don't match from different suppliers in different countries because consumers in different towns won't know the difference, that's a putdown of the American consumer. And as that attitude spreads, the consumer dollars are sure to be spent on something other than towels, sheets and bedding.

Overall, what is emerging is an ever so slight increase in laxity in production standards when price is the key criterion — folks turning their eyes away from quality controls and a lessening of critical assessment of product before it gets on the ships.

The lack of standards about what is a thread count is something that simply adds to the quality challenges that this marketplace has to address.

The offshore sourcing phenomenon is moving into full swing. It's time to take another hard look at the benefits and perils.

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